Friday, January 31, 2020

Shut up and drink (fiction)


Chernovsky hit the Columbia Highway bridge on the eastern edge of Capiche three days after the first “sand-table” meeting.

Leaving Howell, Chernovsky calculated that he had fifteen hours of walk-time to get home. He figured he could do that in three, leisurely legs, even with a raging case of dysentery.

Two days later, he recalculated and determined that he was still three days from home. He was just going to have to take things slower than he had planned.

Two days after that he cached most of his pack. He was STILL three days from home. The periods of walking got shorter. The rests got longer.

Dysentery does more than remove water from the body. It removes electrolytes. Water can be replaced by drinking, although there is the risk of accumulating more causal agents. When electrolytes are lost and not replaced, the body cannot absorb the water without disrupting its osmotic balance. If it were to absorb water without the corresponding electrolytes, it could go into cardiac arrest and our bodies are smart enough to not let that happen.

Chernovsky looked like dead-man-walking as he approached the bridge. His own troops did not recognize him until he spoke.

The lead fighter “asked” Chernovsky if he wanted a ride.

“Nah, I got this.” he said as he staggered off.

One of the functions of a soldier is to amplify orders. A commander gives a soldier an order to accomplish a specific task. The soldier is supposed to figure out the tools, parts and methods that go around fulfilling the order.

There are also special times when a soldier is supposed to ignore an implied order. The fighter reasoned that Chernovsky did not append his refusal of a ride with ‘this is a direct order’ and therefore the fighter had some latitude in whether he called ahead or not.

Nyssa was the community nurse. She brought along Milo, her husband, as the driver and her sister Janelle. It took them half an hour to load up the truck and find Chernovsky. He had not gone far.

Chernovsky was in even worse shape than Nyssa feared. His skin was stretched over his face, his eyes were sunken. She pinched the skin on his forearm and the crease did not level.

Janelle started to speak and Nyssa cut her off “Shut up.”

Nyssa reached into a cooler and pulled out a bottle of liquid and handed it to Chernovsky. She hit him with her most rigid “Nurse Cratchett” voice. “You are my patient. You will do what I say. Drink this.”

Milo helped Chernovsky into the padded seat in back.

“Sip it.” Nyssa commanded. "That needs to be empty in ten minutes.”

“I am just going to throw it up.” Chernovsky said.

“Then I will give you another. I got plenty.” Nyssa countered.

“And I got the shits.” Chernovsky said.

Milo discretely sniffed the air. It was his truck. Somebody was going to have to clean the back seat when this was over.

“If it gets to be too much trouble you can drop your trousers and just wear a towel around your waist.” Nyssa said.

Janelle was relieved that Nyssa had taken command of the situation. Janelle knew that Chernovsky could be a cranky bastard but he seemed willing to let Nyssa tell him what to do.

True to his word, most of the drink came up just as he finished it. Operative word “Most”. Some made it to his small intestine.

“What is this shit.” Chernovsky asked.

“Pink lemonade” Nyssa answered. “Now shut up and drink.”

The second one went down faster. It certainly tasted better than the streams and puddles he had been drinking from.

“We don’t have lemons. Really, what is it?” he asked.

“The Shaw boys picked a bushels of Staghorn Sumac berries. Like ten bushels. They have been making something they call ‘Pink Lemonade’ and selling it by the gallon.” Nyssa said.

She did not tell Chernovsky that the liquid he was drinking also had a half teaspoon (three grams) of salt per liter.

Most of the second bottle stayed down. Nyssa gave Chernovsky five minutes to let that settle in before handing him his third bottle.

Chernovsky had to dash to the bushes to shit after the third bottle. He didn’t quite get his trousers down. In frustration, he kicked the soiled clothes into the bushes.

“Where the hell is that towel?” he roared. He was clearly feeling better.

“You can talk to him now. It looks like he is up to it.” Nyssa informed her sister, dryly. “Just don’t interrupt his drinking.”

One must wonder, how many times in history has a sister-in-law directed her sister to not interrupt her husband’s drinking.

Chernovsky’s body sucked in the slightly sweet, salty fluid like a sponge.

After the fourth bottle, Milo moved the truck into a driveway so they were out-of-sight of passing traffic. Janelle had become, uncharacteristically, extremely emotional. Chernovsky was emotionally fragile and was knocked over by the fact that Janelle had miscarried and it sounded like she wanted to separate.

Janelle, taking counsel of her fears, had come to the conclusion that she had trapped Chernovsky with her insisting on a permanent relationship. She kept trying to tell him he was free to go...if he wanted to.

Chernovsky, for his part, had hours and hours and hours to think about everything as he spied on Howell from the tops of buildings. He also had many long conversations with Dave Williams, the recovering alcoholic who had taken Chernovsky under his wing. They talked about "the good stuff". Chernovsky saw much of himself in Williams. In a way, it was like having the opportunity to consult with his future-self some fifty years in the future.

The formless feelings he had for Janelle had a chance to crystallize and solidify without the daily distraction of herding cats. Chernovsky was not “every man”. Why should he give a rat’s ass about the opinions of pre-Ebola writers? Why should he let them define what was beautiful and what was ugly, what was precious and what was base.

Janelle was the yin to his yang. Everything about Janelle spoke to something deep inside of Chernovsky. She scratched his itch. And he would kick anybody’s ass who disputed the fact that she was beautiful.

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